REVIEW: Whatever Works

Whatever Works
92 Minutes // USA // Wild Bunch
dir. Woody Allen
Saturday, June 27th, 2009  Cineplex Varsity
starring: Larry David & Evan Rachel Wood

Whatever Works is Woody Allen’s latest feature and his first set in New York in 4 years. After taking a European getaway from his routine film focus, it is clear that he absorbed a fair amount of the culture overseas and incorporated it into this script. Whether it be through large culture differences or banter that touches on European countries, it’s obvious he still hasn’t gotten over the experience. Unfortunately, this clashes with the brash and robust feeling that New York puts forth; the cinematography has a delightful and light sensation that is more akin to Vicky Cristina Barcelona than his more downtrodden in Broadway Danny Rose. Fortunately however, Allen does maintain a good balance between pleasant and grumpy to not frustrate the viewer – perhaps his intention was to contrast Boris’ (Larry David) pitiful self-made atmosphere with the uplifting and glowing one that Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) slowly injects into his heart. Regardless, it isn’t poor in this regard.

Woody Allen’s 40th directed cinematic feature is a lot like his 39 predecessors. It talks about the meaning of life, love and the anxiety of being focused around your mental being. Boris – a depressing, suicidal Nobel Prize nominee – pushes everyone away from him and only those who have been with him from a young age continue to put up with his behavior. One fateful night, a young, uninspired and easily impressionable woman from Mississippi is found beneath a few boxes in front of his house. After a close deliberation, he allows the woman into his house and slowly, but surely, she falls for him. On the other hand, Boris finds no comfort or joy in love or sex, so their chemistry together is awkward and unfortunate when focusing on Melodie.

Eventually Melodie’s strict Christian mother and father make their way to Boris’ doorstep – both after an important and somewhat surprising event. First comes Melodie’s mother, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) who holds a strong Christian front, but is a sexually explicit woman at heart – then Melodie’s father, John (Ed Begley Jr.) who is an all-round man’s man. The film never divulges into either parents past, but through assumption and clear thinking their past is mapped out well.

So with Boris and Melodie being together, you figure both leads put forth fair performances. Well, on the one hand, Larry David does a solid job as the very angry and unappreciative man, but I couldn’t help but place Woody Allen in the role and see myself enjoying the film much more. With Evan Rachel Wood, this film rekindled my love for her with her wonderful accent, great comic timing, unbearably disheartening struggles through a life with a misanthrope and pretty much flawless line delivery, I can see why Allen took to her quickly.

Clarkson has found herself in Allen’s second straight film because Allen found her incredibly charming and focused in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (even though she was barely in it) so he invited her back for Whatever Works – and boy, does she ever work it. A critic’s darling for her performance as Marietta that could easily translate into an Oscar nomination if the studio plays their cards right. I personally didn’t find it that attractive (same with Cruz’s Oscar winning performance last year), but I do understand the reason for it. Her seasoned personality and veteran work ethic do her career proud and certainly
deserves an accolade or two! Although the film isn’t as deep, insanely witty or metaphorical as Allen’s best, it is still an Allen film and you feel it from the classic credits to the euphoric and perfectly groomed conclusion. I recommend it for any fan of Allen – be them a fanatic or fair weather – as well as anyone who enjoys a great ensemble and generally light story.

Just because it isn’t Allen’s best doesn’t mean much – ’cause you know, whatever… it works. [7/10]